A glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province By H.A. Rose Vol II/C via Jat Land
Chamar (चमार), Chamiar (चमिआर), fem. [Chamari]] (चमारी). The Chamār is the tanner and leather-worker of North-Western India,* and in the western parts of the Punjab he is called Mochi whenever he is, as he generally is, a Musalman, the caste being one and the same. The name Chamar is derived from the Sanskrit charmakāra or "worker in hides." But in the east of the Punjab he is far more than a leather-worker. He is the general coolie and field labourer of the villages; and a Chamar, if asked his caste by an Englishman at any rate, will answer " Coolie " as often as " Chamār."† They do all the begar, or such work as cutting grass, carrying wood and bundles, acting as watchmen, and the like ; and they plaster the houses with mud when they need it. They take the hides of all dead cattle and the flesh of all clovenfooted animals, that of such as do not divide the hoof going to Chuhras. They make and mend shoes, thongs for the cart, and whips and other leather work; and above all they do an immense deal of hard work in the fields, each family supplying each cultivating association with the continuous labour of a certain number of hands. All this they do as village menials, receiving fixed customary dues in tho shape of a share of the produce of the fields. In the east and south-east of the Punjab the village Chamars also do a great deal of weaving, which however is paid for separately. The Chamars stand far above the Chuhras in social
* Sherring has a long disquisition on the Chamar caste, which appears to be much more extensive and to include much more varied tribes in Hindustan than in the Punjab.
† Why is a Chamar always addressed with "Oh Cbamar ke " instead of " Oh Chamar," as any other caste -would be ?
position, and some of their tribes are almost accepted as Hindus.* They are generally dark in colour, and are almost certainly of aboriginal origin, though here again their numbers have perhaps been swollen by members of other and higher castes who have fallen or been degraded.
The people say :
Kariā Brahman, got Chamār
In ke sāth na utrie par.
Meaning -" Do not cross the ferry with a black Brahman or a fair Chamār".
One being as unusual as the other. Their women are celebrated for beauty, and loss of caste is often attributed to too great partiality for a Chamāri.
The traditional origin of the Chamars is that Chanu (or Chanwe) and Banu were two brothers : the former removed a cow's carcase with his own hands and so Banu† out-casted him.†† In Kapurthala, however, another version is current, and according to this Gāt told his brother Met to remove a carcase and then declined to associate with him for doing so, and the Mirasi who witnessed the incident, took Gat's part. From Mat are descended the Chamars.
Synonyms. — It is difficult to say what are the real synonyms of Chamār. The term Chuhra-Chamār is often used to denote the group formed by the two castes, just as Mochi-Julahā, is used, but it does not imply that the two castes are identical. Just as the Muhammadan Chamar is styled Mochi so the Sikh Chamar is called Ramdasia (qq. v.). In Sirsa a Chamar is called Meghwāl as a compliment, but opprobiously he is styled Dheḍ§ or Dheṛh, a term applied to any 'low fellow'. The 'Meghwāl' claim descent from Megh-rikh who was created by Narain.
Groups. — The Chamars are divided into several sub-caste?. In the Eastern Punjab there appear to be at least five true sub-castes which do not intermarry. These are in order of precedence :
i. Chāndor, said in Delhi to trace its origin from Benares, possibly from some association with Kabir. It is the principal sub-caste in Hissar, including Sirsa, and its members do not tan, leaving that to the Chamrangs and Khatiks, and working only in prepared leather. See also under Meghwāl.
ii. Raidāsi or Rabdāsi, named after Raidās Bhagat, himself a Chamar, a contemporary of Kabir, and like him a disciple of Ramanand. It is the prevalent sub-caste in Karnal and its neighbourhood.
iii. Jaṭiā, found in greatest numbers about the neighbourhood of Delhi and Gurgaon. They work in horse and camel hides, which are an abomination to the Chāndar, probably as having the foot uncloven; and are perhaps named from the word jaṭ
* The Chamars will eat food prepared by any tribe except the Khākrob (Chuhra), Kanjar, Sansi and Nat, Smoking; is only allowed anions themselves and they will not eat or drink from a Dhobi, a Dum or a Nilgar (indigo dyer) [Karnal].
† Banu or Banwe here would appear to be the eponym of the Bania caste, which is said to still worship an ār and a rambi at weddings.
†† A Dum witnessed the occurrence, and so to this day no Chamar will eat or drink from a Dum or Mirasi's hands,
§ The Dheḍ appears to be a separate caste in the Central Provinces, though closely allied with the Chamr. The Dheḍ is also a large tribe in Kachh and Sindh, also called Bhambi.
The Chamar sub-castes
a camel-grazier. On the other hand, they are said to obtain the services of Gaur Brahmans, which would put them above all other Chamars, who have to be content with the minisatrtions of the outcast Chamarwa Brahman.
iv. Chambār, the prevalent sub-caste further west about Jullundhar and Ludhiana.
V. Golia, lowest of all the sub-castes, indeed Golia is the name of a section of many menial castes in the Eastern Punjab, and in almost all cases carries with it an inferior standing in the caste.
Further west, in Nabha, the sub-castes are, however, said to be four in number, viz. ;—
1. Būnā (Bunia).
3. Chamārwa - who touch unclean things.
4. Chanbar(sic) - who touch unclean things.
The Buna appears in Ludhiana as the Bunia, a Sikh Chamar, who having taken to weaving ranks higher than the workers in leather. The Rahtia* is also said to be a Sikh Chamar who has taken to weaving, but many Rahtias are Muhammadans.
Territorially the Chamars in Patiala are divided into two groups which do not intermarry and thus form sub-castes. These are the Bagri, or immigrants from the Bagar, found in the south-east of the State, and the Desi.
Among the Desi in Patiala two occupational groups are found, viz., the Chamars who make shoes, and the Bonas, the latter sub-caste being weavers of blankets by occupation and Sikhs by religion.
The Jind account divides the Chamars into 5 sub-castes, viz., Rāmddsi, Jatia, Chāmar [sic), Pāthi and Raigar, but it is not clear whether these are occupational or territorial or sectarian groups. The Nabha account says they are divided into 4 groups, viz., Chāṇwar, Jatiā, Bahmnia (?) and Chimar [sic). The Chanwar are again divided into two sub-castes (?), Chanwar proper, who are Sultanis by religion and workers in leather; and the Bonas (or blanket-weavers) who are Sikhs of Guru Govind Singh. The Bonas are not found in the south-east. The Jatias (descendants of Jatti, wife of Ramdās) are found only in the south-east and are regarded as inferiors by the Chanwars, who do not drink or smoke with them. A curious story is told of the origin of the Jatiās, connecting the name with jhanṭ (pubes). No Chanwar Chamar would give the Jutias' forefather a girl to wife, so he married a Chuhra's daughter, but the pheras were not completed when a dispute arose, so the Chuhras and Jatias performed half the pheras outside and the rest inside the house until recently, the Jatia tan horse and camel hide, while the Chānwars of Bawal only tan the skins of kine which the Jatias refuse to touch.
* In Sirsa the word seems to be applied to the members of any low caste, such as Chamar or Chuhra. Mr. Wilson, however, had never heard the word used. In Patiala it is said to be applied t) a Sikh Chamar.
The Bahmnia also claim descent from a wife of Rāmdas, and wear the janeo and thus assert their superiority over other Chamārs, but they are not found in Nabha.
The Bilai is apparently the village messenger of the Delhi division. He is at least as often a Chuhra as a Chamār, and ought perhaps to be classed with the former. But there is a Chamār clan of that name who work chiefly as grooms.
The Dusadh is a Purbi tribe of Chamārs, and has apparently come into the Punjab with the troops, being returned only in Delhi, Lahore, and Ambala,
Of the above groups it is clear that some are true sub-castes based on occupation, while others like the Buna are merely occupational groups which may or may not intermarry with other groups. This differentiation of the groups by occupation is most fully developed in the eastern and sub-montane tracts, where the Chamars form an exceedingly large proportion of the population and are the field-labourers of the villages. But in the central districts their place in this respect is taken by the Chuhra. In the west, too, the leather-worker, like all other occupational castes, is much less numerous than in the east. The weaver class, on the other hand, is naturally least numerous in the eastern Districts, where much of the weaving is done by the leather-working castes. And, when the Chamar sticks to leather-working in the eastern Districts, he is apparently dubbed Chamrang or Dabgar, just as in the Punjab proper a Chamār who has adopted Islam, and given up working in cow-hide becomes a Mussalman Khatik tanner.
The gots or sections of the Chamars are very numerous, and some of them are large. They include the Chauhan and Bhatti gots* (numerous in the (central and eastern Districts, especially Ambala) and
Badhan. Bains. Batoi. Bhati. Ghameri. Hir. Jal. Kathana. Mahmi. Phundwal. Sindhu.
Of these eleven gots all but the Kathana are found in the Jullundhar division.
The Chamars are by religion Hindus or Sikhs.
Owing to the fact that the famous bhagat Ramdas was a Chamar by caste, many Chamars are Ramdasias† by sect, and of this sect again some are also Sikhs.
Ramdas was a descendant of Chanu. His mother, Kalsia, was childless, but one day faqir came to her and she gave him flour, in return for which he promised her a son. On his return his guru cross-questioned him, as he was unable to pronounce the name 'Parmeshwar,' and learning of his promise declared that, as no son had been bestowed on Kalsia in her destiny, the faqir himself must be born to her. So he
* The two most numerous gots among the Mochis also, they may of course have adopted these got names from the Rajputs, as Bains and Sindhu may have been borrowed from the Jats.
† The Ramdasia also claim descent from Ramdas. The Ramdasia (Sikhs) take the pahul from Chamars and drink amrit at their hands. Ihe Mazhabi take them from the sweepers' hands. (Kapurthala).
was reborn as Ramdas, who is called Raidas in Bawal. As his mother was a Chamari he refused her breasts, until his guru bade him suck. One day when placed by his mother at a spot where Rama Nand used to pass, he was touched by that teachcr's sandals, and when he cried out was told by him to be silent and repeat ' Ram Kam.' Thus was supernatural power bestowed upon him.
Contrary to the Chamars' customs Ramdas wore a janeo, sounded a conch, and worshipped idols. The Brahmans appealed to the magistrate, whereupon Ramdas cast the idols into a tank, but they returned to him, whereas the Brahmans failed in a similar test. Again, cutting his neck open Ramdas exhibited 4 jdneos, of GOLD, silver, copper and thread, typical of the 4 yugas. Thenceforth he was known as a famous bhagat.*
Chamar women wear no nose-ring, but among the Bunas it is worn by married women, not by widows. The Charimars of Bawal do not wear GOLD nose-rings, and all the Chamars of that locality avoid clothes dyed in saffron, and the use of gold. They also use beestings only after offering it to the gods on the amawas.